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Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts (1934-1937) - Blu-ray Review

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Lost Keaton - Blu-ray Review

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4 stars

Released from Kino International this month, a company set to conclude its run of Keaton high definition transfers soon, is a glimpse at the rarely seen and hardly heard version of the silent comedian.  The Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts presents Buster Keaton’s body of work after the MGM debacle that simply castrated his soaring career in comedy.  Stripped of control and forced to use body doubles, a wounded Keaton soon found himself partnered with song and dance man Jimmy Durante as MGM had no idea what else to do with him.  Give him back control?  Oh no.  Approve his scripts?  Not a chance.  Defeat and divorce led him to drink and, rather quickly, Keaton found himself dumped from a contract.

They were dark days indeed.

Educational Pictures, a company that once upon a time ago made instructional films for schools and the like, signed Keaton when no one else would.  Sixteen films, each shot with a budget not to exceed $20,000 between 1934 and 1937, were the result.  Definitely not masterpieces – although there are some comedic delights to be found – the Educational Pictures material represent an artist itching to find a paying public again as he pratfalls himself into the on-screen persona of “Elmer” and, while in no way or shape or form comparative to his classic earlier work, the sixteen films are a collector’s choice for an interesting portrait of an artist trying for one last shot at the limelight.

The set begins with The Gold Ghost, an interesting short that has Keaton experimenting with double-exposure effects again as he pins on a tin star and hilariously brings law and order to a gold rush town.  In Allez Oop, Keaton retools his aging graceful frame with a bit of acrobatic antics as he competes for the attention of his girl.  Hilarious and a bit uneven, Allez Oop is one of the several glimmers of hope in the set.  In the fantastically imagined Palooka from Paducah, Keaton presents his “stone face” with a full-on Abe Lincoln-like beard and parodies the end of the prohibition era alongside his father, his mother, and his sister.  It’s a comedic family affair that makes for a delightfully sweet time back on the farm.

The standout gems from the set are easily Grand Slam Opera, The Chemist and Mixed Magic, a solid one that features Keaton as a magician’s assistant in which everything goes wrong and all to the audience’s delight.  These three films work to make the set one worth owning for even the cautious fan out there.  Keaton arms himself with a lone bottle of seltzer water against a gang of criminals in The Chemist and, in Grand Slam Opera, parodies Yankee Doodle Dandy with a song (yes, a song) and takes a train to showcase his juggling skills … on the radio.

From the weird (Three on a Limb) that features an aging Keaton in a too tight Boy Scout uniform to the ridiculous (The Timed Young Man) featuring a too old to be believed Max Sennett behind the camera, Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts don’t aim to be classics, but they do provide a good gander at the final statements from an important artist in comedy and technical film effects.

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Lost Keaton - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Director
: Various
Writer
: Various
Cast:
Buster Keaton; various
Genre
: Classic | Comedy | Short
Tagline:
Various
Memorable Movie Quote:
Distributor:
Kino International
Release Date:
1934-1937
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
March 20, 2012

Synopsis: Various.

List of films included:

  • The Gold Ghost (1934, 20:55)
  • Allez Oop (1934, 20:33)
  • Palooka from Paducah (1935, 20:05)
  • One Run Elmer (1935, 19:08)
  • Hayseed Romance (1935, 20:08)
  • Tars and Stripes (1935, 19:52)
  • The E-Flat Man (1935, 20:02)
  • The Timid Young Man (1935, 19:55)
  • Three on a Limb (1936, 18:10)
  • Grand Slam Opera (1936, 20:30)
  • Blue Blazes (1936, 18:56)
  • The Chemist (1936, 18:59)
  • Mixed Magic (1936, 16:28)
  • Jail Bait (1937, 18:58)
  • Ditto (1937, 17:03)
  • Love Nest on Wheels (1937, 17:56)

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Lost Keaton - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

3 Stars



Blu-ray Experience
3.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - March 20, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.34:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: LPCM Mon
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (2 BDs)
Region Encoding: Region-free

Remastered in HD from the original 35mm prints, Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts are as good and as clean as they are ever going to get for fans, casual observers, and Keaton collectors. The entire set is fine-tuned from Keaton’s own collection of prints and historian with other archival sources provided by Raymond Rahauer. The films were low budget affairs so none should expect technical marvel-looking prints. All sixteen films feature specks and flecks and dirt debris of some sort.  It’s in Kino’s hands so you can trust in the digital sweeping that has taken place. Black levels are consistent and hold only the faintest of flickers and white levels are solid. Edges aren’t strong, but the images hold their shapes well. The sound – presented in an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono track – is full of pops and hiss. Often times the recordings are so poor that one wonders if they were so damaged they simply couldn’t be cleaned up for the release. Ironically enough, sound suffers the most with this release.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There’s no recording, but a thick booklet – written by David Macleod, author of The Sound of Buster Keaton – details each of the sixteen films with great information.  It is included with the set.

Special Features:

Other than the booklet, the supplemental material is encompassed by a gallery of stills and a brief featurette that is simply an edited-together series of pratfalls.  It’s weak, but if you take into consideration that the 2-disc set includes sixteen hard to find films and covers the low point of Keaton’s career you might be consoled.

  • Why They Call Him Buster (1 min)
  • Photo Gallery

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